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Bart

Nothing Happened in Coronation

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I lived in Coronation, an Alberta village in Canada, until I was 18. This is the 9th of 25 Coronation stories & essays.


Bart


They say nothing happened in Coronation but they must have been out of town one Saturday night in 1960.

The evening started out dull, not much to do but watch a movie at the Avalon, the town’s only theater, or maybe wander over to the Chinese cafe and have a cold Coke and a warm piece of pie. Sometimes there was a dance or a wedding but not that night.

You could shoot eight ball.

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Mac’s Pool Hall had no ventilation and it was dark blue with grimy smoke (from roll-your-owns) that made me cough.

Mac was in his 80s, smoked Camels in a long, dirty, black, cracked cigarette holder and was horrid to his wife.

He was usually drunk and one night he threw his 75 year old, 95 pound wife out of their home. She had to sleep in a wicker clothes basket.

Mac used to tease me about being a virgin — “Hey, when you going to get a piece of ass?”

This kind of chiding was tough to endure when there were only a few people in the pool hall but it was more than I could handle when the place was packed with characters itching for an opportunity to laugh. Friday and Saturday nights I avoided Mac’s.

“Hey, Sport,” said a voice.

I squinted down the dusty alley that bordered Chong’s Cafe.

Kort was sitting behind the wheel of a new 1961 Chevy Coupe. Kort was 18, same as me — except he looked like a man — he’d been shaving since he was 12 and he had muscles.

Big muscles — the kind that made it easy for him to fling monstrous hay bales around like they were prairie puffballs on his stepfather’s farm.

“What are you doing in town?” I asked.

“Came to see Jill — it’s her birthday tomorrow. Got her some imported French perfume. Like my new buggy?”

“It’s great,” I said. But I was thinking about Jill. She had sparkling green eyes and was my idea of what a 17 year old fox should be.

I figured Jill could have any guy she wanted but I never put the moves on her because Kort had asked me to keep an eye on her while he was working as a roughneck on the oil rigs of Northern Alberta.

Keeping an eye on Jill sounded like a great assignment until you got down to brass tacks (Kort’s term for getting laid).

Kort and I had been buddies since the third grade and at least a dozen times he had stopped locals from breaking my under-developed body into smaller pieces. When a friend like that asks you for a favor, it’s hard to say no.

“Pile in,” he said. “Let’s liven up this burg.”

I walked around to the passenger side and got in.

For a new car the Chevy was deteriorating quickly — a dent in the rear fender, a broken bumper and a missing tail light. The back window was cracked and caked with mud. I guess that’s what happened when you drove a new car in the oil fields.

“So have you seen much of Jill?” asked Kort, grinding the car into second and turning onto the main drag of Coronation.

There was only a single main street in Coronation:  a couple of hardware stores, a couple of service stations, a couple of banks, a couple of cafes, a couple of grocery stores and a couple of laundries. And there was also a drug store, a butcher shop, and junk shop.

“No.”

“Anybody been getting down to brass tacks with her?”

“Not that I heard of.”

Kort reached under his seat and snared a bottle of beer. He offered it to me. I shook my head, gave him a weak smile.

“Remember the time your old man got drunk at the barbecue and old lady McCalpine called your mother and said your old man was crawling around like a bear in her carrots?”

“I remember,” I said.

We both laughed.

I found the bottle opener and flipped off the bottle cap.

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I passed the bottle to him and Kort lifted it to his lips and took a long pull of the liquid. Then he gave a sidelong glance. “Hey, you’ve been putting on a little muscle — another couple of months and you can be a roughneck.”

“I don’t know if I want to work on the rigs. Too dangerous.”

Kort shrugged, wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his jean jacket. He looked at me and smiled, smiled with the satisfaction of a man who had left home and was successful in the world. “I don’t think Jill stays at the farm all the time,” he said.

I wondered if he had heard that I had gone to the movies with Jill a few days earlier. “How do you figure that?”

“Because,” said Kort. “She’s right over there.”

Jill stood in front of Builder’s Hardware amid a group of Hutterites who had come into town for Saturday night.

The Hutterites dressed in black — black shoes, black pants, black skirts, black shirts and black hats. They spoke English with a thick German accent and lived in a Hutterite colony about twenty miles from Coronation — they collectively held massive sections of land.

But the individual owned nothing. The head man of the colony gave the men enough money to buy a couple of beers on Saturday nights. The women didn’t get any money so they waited on the streets and window shopped while their men drank beer and talked. One or two of the more daring women wore black shawls with tiny red flowers on them.

Jill was a daisy in a field of black clover, standing there in the middle of all those Hutterites. I don’t think I ever remember anyone looking more beautiful.

She didn’t recognize Kort’s car. And she didn’t see him either.

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But she saw me and flashed me a real warm smile — with teeth as white and perfect as Chiclets. Then she looked past me and saw Kort, grinning at her.

“Hi, Kort” she said. “What are you doing back in town?”

“Passing through —”

“I like your car.”

“This old jalopy? Bought it off a tool push who got a contract for South America. Get in.”

“OK if Irene comes with us?”

“Sure.”

Jill flashed Kort a sparkling smile. (Until I saw that smile I didn’t think Jill was capable of a warmer smile than she had given me. That gives you an idea of how much I knew about women.)

Jill opened the back door of the car so that her friend could get in. Out of the shadows came this other girl. Her friend had acne that was close to a terminal case, she was cross-eyed, and her nose was not great. And I was afraid she was going to be my date for the night.

Instead of getting in the front seat, Jill got in the back with Irene.

“Hey,” said Kort. “Why don’t you sit up here with me?”

“What’s on your mind, Mr. Roughneck?” giggled Jill.

Kort flashed me an annoyed look. “Women,” he mumbled under his breath. He stepped on the accelerator. “Oh, by the way — Happy Birthday.” He dug out Jill’s present — a small bundle wrapped in silver and gold and passed it back to her.

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Jill undid the wrapping and both girls examined the small bottle of perfume it contained.

Kort checked his rear view mirror, keeping one eye on Jill. I had an eye on Kort. Suddenly Jill screamed:  “Stop!”

Kort hit the brakes and my forehead bounced against the windshield. If we had been going any faster I would have probably gone through the glass.

Standing nonchalantly on the gravel road — two inches in front of the Chevy’s hood was Bart Barley. His name was Harland Barley but everyone called him Bart Barley — but never to his face.

Bart Barley and Kort were the two toughest guys in town. No one messed with them. They both had the same philosophy — if anyone challenged them to a fight, they exploded like hammers coming out of hell.

Bart — who had seen “Rebel Without a Cause” about a dozen times was lighting a cigarette.

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He took a long drag, let the smoke trickle out of his wide nostrils, tucked the package into his sleeve, pulled his ear, adjusted the crotch of his jeans. Bart had skin the color and texture of old potatoes — this was from working in the summer sun on his uncle’s farm.

He glanced into the headlights of the Chevy as though he had seen it for the first time.

The mercury vapor lights made the metal tabs on his shirt collar glisten like twisted stars. Bart’s shirt was western cut — he always wore it when he had on his silver belt buckle. He had won the buckle at the Stettler Rodeo when he was 16 years old. The win had cost him five broken ribs and a twisted ankle and the tip of his right small finger. He once told me the buckle would have been worth his entire finger.

Bart ran a callused hand along the hood of the Chevy. Then he looked in at Kort and said:  “Sonabitch, this is some car — where’d you get her?”

“Same place you could get one if you’d work on the rigs,” said Kort.

By this time Bart was standing next to Kort’s door. Bart looked in and saw me, then he spotted the two girls in the back seat.

“Hop in and I’ll show you how this thing takes the corners,” said Kort.

Bart shrugged and reached for Jill’s door. I guess he thought he was going to get in the back seat and sit beside her.

This was not to be because Jill said, “I want to sit beside a window, likewise for my friend Irene.”

“You expect me to sit in the middle between the two of you on a hump?”

“You can sit where you please,” said Jill. “But Irene and me each get a window.”

Bart Barley walked around to my side of the car and opened the door. “You don’t mind sliding over, do you?’

“Heck no,” I said. First — Bart had seen me with Jill at the movies a couple of times. I figured if I gave up my window seat, Bart might keep his lip buttoned. Secondly, although Bart was usually rather gentle, when he was riled, bones got broken. I had seen his rough side and it was awful to behold. Just awful.

We tooled past the Alberta Liquor Vendors and the Co-Op when Jill got the cap off the bottle of perfume and the entire car was suddenly filled with the most delicate scent of flowers I had ever experienced.

“Cost me a week’s salary and I’m talking about plenty of overtime,” said Kort. “Bought it from a peddler who picked it up in Paris.” He pronounced Paris as “Paree.” He nudged me and gave me a wink as if to say — if that don’t get her down to brass tacks, nothing will.

I smiled feebly back.

The town’s local cop was parked in front of the telephone office visiting his girlfriend, Beth, who was married to a car salesman.

Kort finished his beer, belched and stepped on the gas. The gravel kicked into the air behind us — a wake of dust and tiny rocks —

By the time we were at the edge of town, Kort had made certain everyone in the car had a bottle of beer. (Everyone but me.)

Soon we headed north on the gravel road to the cemetery. It was about three miles out of town. Irene asked why the graveyard was so far out of town.

I explained when Coronation had come into existence everyone thought it was going to be a small city and the graveyard was going to be in the center of everything. “So much for turn of the century urban planning,” said Irene. I was the only one who smiled.

“I don’t know why we’re going to the graveyard,” said Jill. “It’s getting too dark.”

“It’s not the dead ones you have to watch out for, it’s the live ones,” I said.

Bart threw his head back and made a noise like a wolf and said that dead people walked around the graveyard during the full moon.

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There was a full moon out. Its light flickered through the yellow shafts of harvested grain on both sides of the gravel road.

“Could someone open another beer for me?” asked Jill.

I reached for the bottle but Bart grabbed it.

“Hell,” he said, “here’s how you open a Goddam bottle of juice.” And with that he uncapped it with his teeth and passed it back to Jill. Jill had seen Bart perform that stunt before.

Irene hadn’t and she said:  “Aren’t you afraid you’ll break your teeth?”

“I got plenty,” said Bart. “Gimme your beer and I’ll open it for you.”

“I’m not thirsty —”

“I said gimme it, bitch,” growled Bart and yanked the beer out of Irene’s hand. For a big guy Bart was fast — and before Irene could protest, he had ripped the beer cap off with his teeth and returned it to her.

“You chipped your tooth,” she said.

“Doesn’t hurt,” said Bart.

Kort nudged me in the ribs and gave me a quick wink. “Hey, Bart — tell her about the time you lost the tip of your finger at the rodeo.”

“I don’t want to hear about it,” said Irene.

“A Brahma bull trampled me. When I got up the finger end was gone,” said Bart.

“What?” asked Irene.

“He’s telling you the truth. It happened at the Stettler Rodeo.

That’s how he won his silver buckle,” said Kort, laughing.

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“That’s how I won her,” said Bart. He tipped his beer to his lips and drained half the bottle in a couple of quick gulps.

“God. There’s blood on your mouth,” said Irene.

“Got lots where that came from,” said Bart and finished his beer. He turned around at Irene and looked at her. “Don’t you drink?”

She took a tiny sip of the beer.

Bart tossed his empty bottle out of the window where it smashed into a spray of glass. We were doing about 50 miles per hour. Bart nudged me and said, “God, that woman is uglier than a mud fence.”

I winced. I was sure Irene had heard him. And when I turned around a few minutes later Irene was trying to look calm but I could tell she was on the verge of tears. Bart had really hurt her.

Kort leaned across me and said to Bart, “Don’t talk that way.”

“She’s a pig, man,” said Bart, acting a little more drunk than he should have been. He hunted around in his shirt for something and a second later came up with a mickey of whiskey. “I like something with a little life to it.” He bit the cap off the bottle.

“That’s quite an outfit you have on,” said Irene from the back seat. “Part western, part Bohemian.”

“What’s a Bohemian?” asked Kort.

“They don’t go along with the establishment,” said Irene.

“They’re into music and art,” I said.

“Hank Snow is the only guy I ever heard I liked,” said Bart.

We stopped at the graveyard. And as Jill had pointed out, it was dark but there was a fat August moon shimmering about the grave stones.

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Bart took a couple of pulls of the whiskey and staggered out of the car and into the graveyard. He then jammed the top of the cap into his mouth and bit the plastic into small pieces and swallowed them.

“Why’d you do that?” asked Irene.

“Because when I open a bottle I finish her, you dumb pig,” said Bart. He raised his arms like an airplane and pretended he was a B-52 pilot zooming among the headstones.

The four of us got out of the car and walked into the cemetery. It was filled with names I knew, grandparents and great-grandparents of people I had gone to school with. There were names of young men from World War I and II. Some of them had died when they were 17 or 18 in Europe.

I saw one small gravestone of a young girl who I had heard had died when she had a child out of wedlock and some Ukrainian midwife had blotched her abortion.

Kort took Jill by her hand and they walked behind a white cement angel holding a cross and I heard them talking and guessed they were kissing.

Bart set his half filled bottle of whiskey on a black tomb stone and walked over to a row of bushes. “’Scuse me, but I got to choke the old gopher.” And he unzipped his fly and disappeared behind a hedge.

This left me alone with Irene. She ran her fingers over the bas relief of the name “Cuthbertson” on a headstone. “He died young” she said.

“Yeah. World War I.”

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“He was about your age when he left Canada.”

“I’d hate to ever have to go to war,” I said.

“You’d do all right. You’ll do pretty good at almost anything.”

“I will?” I asked.

She nodded her head. “How come you don’t drink?” she asked.

“Makes me feel awful the next day.”

“Me too,” she said.

We could hear Bart peeing.

“He thinks I’m ugly,” she said.

“He’s just drunk — I wouldn’t pay much attention to it.”

“But I am ugly. But inside, I try not to be.”

“What?”

“I mean that my nose is too big and I have acne.”

“You’re OK.” I was glad she didn’t bring up that she was cross-eyed.

“When I’m a little older the acne will go away and I’ll get my eyes fixed some more and I might even go to a plastic surgeon for my nose. The doctor said I had to wait another year before my eye uncrosses. I already had two operations. They cut you right here.” She pointed to a tiny dimple by her eye.

“Your nose looks fine to me.”

“You tell nice lies.”

“I still don’t know what you meant about trying not to be ugly inside.”

“When people upset me, I try to get even. It’s dumb and my mother told me I had to stop,” she said.

The way the moonlight played against Irene’s face, her acne disappeared and her nose seemed OK.

Bart stepped out from behind the bushes and slipped up behind Irene and asked:  “Like it here with all these corpses?” And he laughed and grabbed his whiskey bottle and took another long pull. He handed it to Irene.

She flung the bottle over some headstones and it broke.

“Dumb pig,” muttered Bart. “It was almost empty anyhow.”

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From behind the angel I heard Kort say, “Come on, let’s take them back to town, then you and I’ll — ” his voice dropped so low that I could not hear him.

Jill said yes and then something else, then neither one of them said anything and a second later the two of them walked out from behind the angel. They were holding hands and Jill’s hair was messed up and the top two buttons of her blouse were open.

We all got into the car. Jill sat between Kort and me. Bart Barley and Irene ended up in the back seat.

Bart said there was a rodeo coming up in Lacombe and he was going to enter it. “Nice thing about rodeo work is you meet great pussy. Women with good bodies. Good noses.” He reached over and took Irene’s nose between his fingers and made a honking sound.

I was going to say or do something. She looked me right in the eye and shook her head slightly and smiled. Then she reached over and squeezed Bart’s knee and gave him a smile.

Bart flashed her a curious look.

“I heard that cowboys are hellishly good lovers,” said Irene.

“You heard right, Bitch.”

“I bet you screw assiduously.”

It was obvious from Bart’s expression he did not know what assiduously meant — he didn’t know if Irene was complimenting or criticizing him.

Then Irene said she had also heard that guys who rode bulls in rodeos were fags.

“You don’t know jackshit,” said Bart.

“In the city, drugstore cowboys play at being pretend cowboys so they can wear silk shirts like you got on.”

Bart frowned, finished another beer.

Then Irene said she wondered if he had really cut the tip of his finger off in the rodeo. She said she had heard that when a guy got screwed by other guys, they cut the tip off his finger so all the other queers would know who liked to switch-hit.”

“Think a fag could do this?” asked Bart and he opened the door of the car and stepped outside.

By God we must have been doing more than fifty miles an hour when Bart dived into the gravel.

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I saw him bounce like a sack of watermelons, tumbling end over end.

Kort skidded to a stop and backed up. He almost ran over Bart who was face down in the gravel.

Kort and I managed to carry Bart back to the car. He was bloody and dirty but there didn’t seem to be any bones broken.

Jill said we should take Bart right to the hospital. Bart shook his head, spit out some blood, reached for another beer and said, “Forget the hospital.”

Bart gave Irene a cold look as if to say, what do you think now bitch?

“Too bad the door popped open,” said Irene. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have fallen out accidentally.”

The car picked up speed —

“It was no accident,” said Bart.

Irene reached over and pinched his cheek. “You don’t think anyone believes you’re tough enough to dive into a gravel road while this car is moving do you?”

Slowly, deliberately, Bart reached for the door.

He opened it as I yelled for Kort to stop.

Bart stepped out into the gravel.

Jill screamed.

Kort swore at Irene and asked me why I hadn’t tried to stop Bart.

The moon moved behind an old owl as we got the Chevy stopped.

A photo of an owl

Kort found a flashlight and after a few minutes we located Bart Barley pitched on his head, one foot stuck up pointing at the north star. His face was crunched against a boulder and his hair dripped with blood.

I knelt by him and took his pulse. “He doesn’t have a heartbeat,” I said.

“Don’t be nuts,” said Kort. “You’re taking his pulse from the wrong side of his wrist.”

By this time Jill and Irene were out of the car. The four of us managed to carry Bart back to the car—the ditch was slippery and steep. There were low moans coming from him.

“Is the hospital still open?” asked Jill.

“The hospital is always open!” said Kort. “Get some paper under his head, he’s getting blood all over my seat—”

I found a newspaper and slipped it between Bart’s head and the Chevy’s upholstery.

Irene dabbed at Bart’s head wounds with her handkerchief. “I’m really sorry—you got to forgive me,” she said. “I didn’t mean to trick you.”

Bart’s right eye opened, he frowned.

“He’s awake,” said Jill. “Now let’s get him to the hospital.”

Kort started the car and eased it into second—

“’Course I’m awake.” He grabbed Irene by her arm. “What’d you mean—forgive you?”

“Stop the car!” screamed Jill.

Irene got up close to Bart and said, “I tricked you into jumping out. It’s not your fault I made you do it. You’re just more stupid than any of us can imagine.”

“Shut up, you’ll have him diving out again,” Kort said.

Bart got his hand on the door handle. “I do what I want—no ugly broad gets me to do nothing.”

And with that he opened the door, made a sound like a duck and flew out into the night. We were doing less than ten miles an hour but he still fell hard in the gravel. Then dripping blood and spit, Bart stood up and raced around the Chevy, flapping his wings and making a nose that sounded more like a crow than a duck.

“What the hell does he think he is a mallard?” asked Kort. He jumped out and the two of us tried to grab Bart.

We had him for a second, but he twisted away and disappeared into the ditch.

I found another flashlight. I had heard when people were drunk they became limp and their bones didn’t break easily. Maybe Bart would survive the night. Irene asked Jill if Bart was insane and Jill said she heard that his grandparents had been first cousins and something might have been wrong with his brain.

“I’m going back to town,” said Kort after minutes of futile searching.

“You can’t,” I said. “We leave Bart out here, he’ll bleed to death.”

“In the oil field, you act like a dickhead, you pay the consequences.” Kort said this a little louder than he needed. He was performing for Jill and Irene. He wanted them to understand he was a grown-up, on his own.

“Let’s find him. Stop talking so crazy,” said Jill.

In the distance, a long finger of lightning snapped across the black sky.

Rain in Australian Rainforest

By the time we had finished hunting through the ditch for Bart, the rain was torrential. The wind came spinning out of the north and the lightning crackled. We were all shivering—especially the girls.

“He must have walked back to town on his own,” said Kort. “It’s only half a mile.”

There was a terrific flash of lightning in the direction of the Nose Hills and that light made it possible for us to see Bart running along a the crest of the hill. Backlit by the storm, he looked like something from another planet.

Kort, cursing and annoyed, crawled over a barbed wire fence that ran along the highway. He held the barbed wire strands apart for me to get through. By the time we got to our feet in the field, we were covered in mud. Jill and Irene waited in the car.

More lightning zapped through the sky and etched Bart against the blackness so he looked like bas relief on an old headstone.

I remembered a movie I’d seen about Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. There was a frightening animation sequence when a headless horseman galloped through the country side. That was the image I thought of when I saw Bart galloping along the top of the hill, flapping his wings like a disturbed duck.

Kort and I took off after him. It was tough going through the muddy field but the mud didn’t seem to bother Bart as he raced along, lightning dancing around him, his cowboy shirt flapping in the swirling wind. He laughed maniacally.

Kort was a strong runner and soon closed the distance on Bart.

Bart looked over his shoulder, blood dripping from his chin and he galloped on, half jumping, half flapping—defying us to lay a hand on him.

He leaped into the air, seemed to freeze in it for a second.

Then he disappeared from sight.

Gone.

Vanished.

When I got to the top of the hill I saw what had happened. Many years ago the Canadian National Railway had run a spur line between Coronation and one of the surrounding towns.

The CNR had cut away part of a hill to create a level bed for the tracks. Then later, after the tracks had been in disuse for many years, some of the locals had torn them up and sold the iron for scrap.

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All that was left of the railway were scattered ties, cracked and eroded. Bart was splayed across one of these ties. If there had still been iron tracks, Bart would have been dead for sure. The ties—water logged and soggy—had cushioned Bart’s fall enough to save his life.

Jill and Irene started to honk the horn. Kort yelled over the wind that we had found Bart and ordered the girls to stay put and shut up.

Kort and I half slid, half crawled down the muddy railway bank. Kort repeatedly threatened to beat Bart for screwing up the evening.

Bart was unconscious. Blood from his face and collar bone dripped onto a wet tie and the rain washed his body fluids against the gray gravel.

We got Bart to his feet, crawled up the bank with him and half carried, half-dragged him toward the road.

We must have looked like a strange trio from the girl’s point of view. Every two or three seconds the sky would turn white with lightning and then there would be total blackness.

Three ragged clowns in stop action sequence.

One second we were 50 feet away, then everything went black and a second or so later we were a little closer to the Chevy.

The rain pounded into our faces.

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We reached the barbed wire fence and managed to push Bart under it, then we stepped over the fence and carried him down and up the ditch and to the edge of the road. I had cut my hand on the barbed wire.

Jill and Irene had the back door open and we started to load Bart in the Chevy.

Suddenly his eyes snapped open. Maybe he had simply been pretending to be unconscious. I don’t know. I do know that when Kort tried to stop Bart, Bart cracked Kort in his nose, turned and ran back down through the ditch.

He seemed to run through he barbed wire fence and then slipping and sliding slopped his way through the stubble.

Kort rubbed his nose and got back into the car. He roared at Jill to sit beside him in the front seat and ordered Irene and me to get in the back. I started to argue with him but Irene pulled me into the back seat.

We drove back into town. Kort said Bart was crazy and he never wanted to see him again.

I started to say something again but Irene put her forefinger on my lip and shook her head. I tried to imagine what Irene would look like with good eyes and no acne.

Actually she wasn’t that bad. And she was smarter than a treefull of owls—or at least she sure seemed smart. Also dangerous to cross. While I was thinking these things she buried her head under my chin and the next thing I knew she was nibbling my ear. She was one hell of nibbler. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw Jill staring back at me.

“I’m going to drop you two off in town, then I’m taking Jill home,” said Kort.

“We better tell the police about Bart,” I said.

“Do what you want,” said Kort.

“You can let us off at my aunt’s,” said Irene. “We’ll call the police from there.”

A few minutes later Kort stopped in front of a white two-bedroom cottage a few blocks from my house.

Irene got out and I said good night to Kort and Jill.

The rain had stopped and the first rays of sunlight were starting to spill across the eastern horizon.

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“My aunt and uncle won’t be back until tomorrow. I’ll make you something to eat,” said Irene.

We went into her aunt’s house and Irene made coffee and bacon and eggs while I tried to call the police. There was no answer.

“Boy, I don’t know about you but I’m soaked to the skin from that shower,” she said.

“I got pretty wet.”

“Let’s have a shower,” she said.

“I can go home.”

“Be more fun here.” She went in the bathroom and turned on the shower. I didn’t know what to do—then she said, “Come on in here.”

So I went into the bathroom. It was dark because she had closed the blinds. “Take off your clothes and get in the shower.”

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The bathroom was filled with steam.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“In the shower.”

I thought about Jill and how much I liked her. I thought about Bart and what a crazy night it had been.

I thought about how much fun it would be to get in the shower with a naked girl. I had never done anything like that before. There was a part of me that wanted to get in the shower.

But there was another part of me that was frightened. Irene was something else. I believed her when she said she was going to be beautiful one day. I also knew how good she was at dealing with people. If Bart had not called her ugly he might have been standing where I was standing, being invited into a shower. And he would have gone in that shower.

“Come on, don’t be chicken,” said Irene.

I let myself out of the back door and walked over to the policeman’s house. His car was gone. At my house I crept in through the garage door.

My father’s Olds was parked there and I considered borrowing it and trying to find Bart. But I was not allowed to take the car without permission and it would have been impossible to explain to my father what was going on at five a.m.

I opened my bedroom door, peeled off my damp clothes and crawled under the covers. I figured I would rest for an hour, then go look for the police again.

The sun woke me up around nine. My mother heard me get up and asked me if I wanted breakfast. I said I had something to do, I didn’t want to tell her that Irene had made breakfast for me a few hours earlier.

I hurried over to Bart’s house. I figured that his father would help me find him.

When I got to Bart’s, there he was—slumped in the shade, sipping a beer. He asked me if I wanted a brew.

I said no thanks. I asked him where he had found the beer.

“In the ditch.” Bart finished the bottle and then uncapped another. “That Irene is some bitch, huh?”

“She might not be so bad if you got a chance to know her.”

“I bet that bitch’ll be careful who she calls queer next time.”

Bart’s shirt was stained with mud and blood. There were a couple of gashes on his cheek.They had flecks of caked blood along their edges.

“Someday she might turn out to be pretty,” I said.

“No way.”

I noticed Bart’s right eye was swollen half shut. “You sure you’re all right—you want me to take you to the doctor?”

“Naw—besides, he couldn’t do anything for this.” Bart held up his left hand.

His thumb was gone.

“What happened?” I asked. The bloody stump of where the thumb had been made me ill.

“I lost it last night. But what the hell, I got nine left.” He laughed, laughed that same crazy way he had when he had been half running, half flying along the hill.

After we talked for a few more minutes I went home and that afternoon Irene came over to my house and asked me if I wanted to see the matinee movie at the Avalon.

I said sure and my mother told me she thought Irene was a nice girl.

bart-18

Kort and Jill were at the matinee. Jill looked different. She was wearing the perfume Kort had given her. She had put on too much of it.

Irene and Jill talked for awhile and later Irene confided in me that Jill had said she’d gotten down to brass tacks with Kort.

Irene said that Jill asked if the two of us had but Irene told Jill it was none of her business.
A few days later Irene went back to the city and we wrote to each other once or twice but I never saw her again for five more years. And then, not in person.

I saw her photograph in a magazine—she was runner up for Miss Canada. I thought about her and the shower a lot after that but it was water over the dam, or down the drain.

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